The Inception of Tuna

The Inception of Tuna image

As David Coffee and Jonathan Beck Reed take to the stage of Casa Mañana as stars of Tuna Does Vegaslet’s take a look back at the history of this booming series. 

40 years since its inception, the Tuna series has many accolades to its name. A Broadway run, a prime-time TV special, numerous network appearances, and two performances at the White House. But, how did a play about ‘the third smallest town in Texas’ grow to be a national phenomenon? 

It all began in the fall of 1980. Joe Sears and Jaston Williams had met at the small theatre, Xenia III Productions, and became fast friends. Between swims at Barton Springs, the two would banter back and forth over a tape recorder. Assisted on the script by friend Ed Howard and $10,000, all of those sessions morphed into Greater TunaDebuting in Austin, TX, the nation soon became aware of a twoman play that was taking the south by storm. In fact, it was the Austin audience that made the play so successful.  

An article by The Austin Chronicle sums it up perfectly: “Tuna was proving that culture could compete with sports, that theatre – homegrown theatre, at that! — was big business on the order of the state religion, football.” The hilarity that ensued in Greater Tuna between Joe and Jaston proved that if a play was funny enough, it could form a whole new audience of theatergoers.  

Since the initial run of Greater Tuna, Joe and Jaston toured nearly year-round from 1982 – 2013. Folks, that’s over 4,000 performances of Tuna. “The show had become, in essence, a corporation and so it has been ever since,” says The Austin Chronicle. In fact, the series was so successful that by the time the third installment hit the theatres, they were making $3.8 million a year in gross sales.  

But, even after all the fame and glory, Jaston and Joe continued to return to Austin, the town that showed them that their side project was worth a run on the mainstage.  

See Casa Mañana’s original cast of Tuna, on through March 8. Get your tickets here:

For more about the history of this hilarious series, check out:,